Steely Dan – This Is Where It All Started

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Countdown to Ecstasy was the first Steely Dan album I ever bought. The Rolling Stone raved about it in a review — this would have been sometime in 1973 — so I figured I had better find out what they were on about and pick up a copy. (Two years later, Rolling Stone would later rave about a new release from a band I had literally never heard of, Roxy Music. I went right down and picked up a copy of the album, Siren, and that record turned out to be a life-changing experience as well.)

I thought it was pretty good at first, not much more than that really, but I kept playing it and playing it and it wasn’t long before it became one of my favorite albums and Steely Dan one of my favorite bands.

A few years later, my bulk of my listening would be made up of music by Steely Dan, Roxy Music, Supertramp, Bowie, Ambrosia and 10cc. (Yes, no Beatles yet, I hadn’t come back around to them by then. I had to wait for the MoFi Beatles Box from 1982 and what I thought was its superior sound in order to fall in love with their music all over again. Little did I know…)

Then Pretzel Logic was released. I was living in San Diego at the time and I used to go into my local Tower Records across from the Sports Arena as often as I could, just to see what might have come out that week.

There they were. They had boxes full of them, laid out on the floor in front of the cash registers. I grabbed a copy, sped home and threw it on the turntable. As you might imagine, it proceeded to blow my mind, as would happen with Katy Lied and The Royal Scam and Aja when they came out in each of the following years. [1]

Records Like These

And it’s records like these that make us want to improve our stereo systems. I used to play the song Pretzel Logic to demo my system, but I can assure you that there is no way in the world I was reproducing the information on that record even a tenth as well I can now.

This is precisely what is supposed to drive this hobby — the plain and simple desire to get the music you love to sound better so that you can enjoy it more.

If you’re an audiophile, then by definition you love good sound. Pretzel Logic is a very well recorded album and it can have WONDERFUL sound.

Finding a copy of the album that was mastered and pressed properly is the hard part.

Learning how to really get the LP clean and putting together the kind of stereo that can play such a complex recording right are also difficult.

All three things combined require the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars of money and the investment of many thousands of hours of time if the result is to be completely satisfying.

Countdown to Ecstasy checks off a few of our favorite boxes:

Countdown to Ecstasy is the very definition of the kind of Big Production Rock I have been listening to since I first fell in love with it back in the Seventies. That was about fifty years ago and I still play the album regularly for enjoyment. I have never tired of the music in all that time and I doubt I ever will.

I’m sure you have plenty of records you feel the same way about in your collection. This is one of mine.

Big Rock Records with Big Rock Sound

It is the very definition of a Big Speaker album. The better pressings have the kind of ENERGY in their grooves that are sure to have most audiophile systems begging for mercy.

This is The Audio Challenge that awaits you. If you don’t have a system designed to play records with this kind of SONIC POWER, don’t expect to hear them the way the band and those involved in the production wanted you to.

This album wants to rock your world, and that’s exactly what our Hot Stamper pressings are especially good at doing.

Steely Dan is one of the most influential and important artists/bands in my growth as a music lover and audiophile, joining the ranks of Roxy Music, 10cc, Ambrosia, Yes, Bowie, Supertramp, Eno, Talking Heads, Jethro Tull, Elton John, The Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Cars, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens and countless others, musicians and bands who were clearly dedicated to making higher quality recordings, the kinds of recordings that could only truly come alive in the homes of those with the most advanced audio equipment.

My system was forced to evolve in order to reproduce the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups in the ’70s.

It’s clear that these albums informed not only my taste in music, but the actual stereo I play that music on. It’s what Progress in Audio is all about. I created the system I have in order to play demanding recordings such as these, the music I fell in love with all those years ago.

[1] We are in the process of compiling a Must Own Rock, Pop, Etc. list for every year, and you can be sure that whichever Steely Dan album came out in from 1973 to 1977 will be on it. No serious Rock and Pop audiophile record collection should be without all of them. (Can’t Buy a Thrill and Gaucho are very good albums, but I would not exactly want to call them Must Owns unless except for fans.)

Obsession Is the Best Predictor of Audio Evolution

Ambrosia‘s debut is an album we admit to being obsessed with.

Ambrosia is one of the most influential and important artists/groups in my growth as a music lover and audiophile, joining the ranks of Roxy Music, 10cc, Steely Dan, Yes, James Taylor, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, America, Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp, Eno, Talking Heads, The Doors, Jethro Tull, Elton John, The Beatles, Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Little Feat, Traffic, Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Sergio Mendes, Neil Young, The Eagles, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, The Cars, Peter Frampton, Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens and countless others.

These musicians and bands were clearly dedicated to making higher quality recordings, recordings that could only come to life in the homes of those with the most advanced audio equipment.

My system was forced to evolve in order to reproduce the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups in the ’60s and ’70s. The love you have for your favorite music has to be the driving force if you want to have world class sound.

More records that helped me advance in audio can be found here.

Getting It Right When There’s Money on the Line

Another entry in a series of commentaries that fall under the heading of The Big Picture.

John Stossel wrote a piece about prediction markets shortly after the 2022 midterms, explaining why prediction markets are still a good thing even though many of the predictions that were made there for the election did not come true. His take:

Bettors [may be wrong, but] at least adjust their predictions quickly.

Last night, while clods on TV still said “Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the House (CBS),” those of us who follow the betting already knew that Republicans would win the House.

Historically, bettors have a great track record. Across 730 candidate chances we’ve tracked, when something is expected to happen 70% of the time, it actually happens about 70% of the time.

That’s because people with money on the line try harder than pundits to be right.

As you can imagine, this last line was music to my ears.

We’ve built our record business on the fact that we have the experience, the expertise and the staff needed to find the best sounding pressings of many of the most important recordings of all time, from Dark Side of the Moon to Kind of Blue and everything in between.

And, as everyone knows, we charge a premium price for our Hot Stamper pressings, often ten and twenty times their “market value.” This has been known to upset some people.

But can we charge more than our customers are willing to pay and still be in business after 35 years?

Some people must think they are getting their money’s worth, at least, that’s what some of them tell us.

We have to back up our opinions and our descriptions with actual records that deliver the sound we say they will, or we would have gone out of business a long time ago. You can fool some of the people all of the time, etc., etc.


This is in sharp contrast to the audiophile reviewers who tout one new record after another with no guarantee whatsoever that you will find anything like the superior sound they spent an endless number of words describing when you finally get the record on your turntable.

Where do you go to get your money back when the record doesn’t have the sound they told you it would have?

If it’s heavy vinyl, there is nowhere for you to go.

If it’s a Hot Stamper, you send it back to us and we refund your money.

We have to be right almost all of the time if we are going to be successful in the record business. We charge a substantial premium for records that look very much like other pressings, with little in the way of collector value. If we were wrong more than a small fraction of the time, buyers would quickly tire of the hassle of returning our records.


Thoughts on Classical Music and My Hot Stamper Collection

So what I can’t get out of my mind, you have been doing this all these years, your own personal collection must be the creme de la creme. Cannot even imagine. But sure would love to hear!

Dear Chuck,

I’ve had an extensive record collection for all of my life, right up until about fifteen years ago. Starting at the tender young age of 10, I bought the 45 of She Loves You on Swan records, which I still own. Can’t play it, it’s broken, but I keep it anyway. When I was a kid, I used to take my two dollar weekly allowance and buy two 45s with it. Did that for years. Still have them, close to two hundred in old carrying cases. I look forward to playing them in my retirement.

I had hundreds of amazing sounding LPs in my collection, the best of the best from more than 20 years of doing shootouts. About fifteen years ago I asked myself what were all these great sounding records sitting on a shelf for? I never played them because I got to hear all my favorite records every day, and after playing records all day, the last thing I wanted to do at night or on a weekend was pull a record off the shelf and play it.

So I put all my personal records into shootouts, and sometimes they did well and sometimes they did not. (Those of you who go back and play your old records from years past will surely find some real surprises, both good and bad.)

I sit my wife down from time to time when the stereo is at its peak playback quality after doing shootouts all day. I might put on Deja Vu or Back in Black or The Wall or some other amazing pressing we’ve just found, and I always point out to her that this is a record that will be gone next week. This is it, listen to it now because you will not have the chance again for many months, sometimes even years.

Most audiophiles outside of our customers rarely have that experience, but it’s really the only way I listen to music anymore, on the best pressings in the world.

I play mostly classical records these days, which, on the best vintage pressings, are really a thrill on big speakers at loud volumes. We had to stop going to the Santa Barbara symphony because the sound was better in my listening room than it was in that hall. Practically all of the performances on vinyl were better too, to tell you the truth.

I can’t compete with Disney Hall for sonics, but it takes two hours to get there and good tickets are $300-500 each. It’s tough to make the commitment at those prices, especially when you have spent your entire adult life building a great stereo and room. Suspension of disbelief is immediate and lasting.

The best classical recordings cannot hold a candle to a good orchestra in a good hall, but it has been my experience that those two things in combination are very hard to find in the real world. Fortunately for me, the memory of the music and sound I used to hear at the Disney Hall faded after a few weeks, at which point I could go back to playing my classical records and enjoying the hell out of them.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts I wanted to share with you today.

Best, TP

Thought for the Day – Getting Older and Losing Patience

Another entry in a short series we like to call Observations.

I’ve noticed an interesting development in the world of record collecting, one that seems to be true for both me and many of my customers.

As I’ve gotten older I find I have more money, which allows me to buy higher quality goods of all kinds, especially records. At the same time I seem to have much less tolerance for mediocrity, as well as less patience with the hassle of having to do  too much work to find a record that’s truly exceptional, one that actually will reward the time and effort it takes to sit down and listen to it all the way through.

As a consequence, if I’m going to play a record, I’m going to make sure it’s a good one, and I don’t want to have to play five or ten copies to find the one with the magic.

We actually do play five or ten copies of every record because it’s our business, but I sure don’t have the patience to go through all that for my own personal listening the way I did twenty years ago.

Of course, that’s precisely the experimental process that taught me what I know about records today, and how I learned to find the ones with the magic, but it sure would be hard to start all over again at this age (68).

There are dozens of titles linked here (as of 2022), every one of which taught us something important about records and their sound.

If you want to learn more about records, there is only one way to learn that kind of information, and that is to do what we do: play lots and lots of different pressings and listen to them critically.

Nothing else works, because nothing else can work.